First thing you see is the smoking shelter by the trees. The Ten O’Clock People are one of the world’s signature sights. Whatever the weather, in any country on the planet, come the end of time and against boiling skies there will still be knots and clutches of men and women in cheap suits and plastic IDs slung round their necks smoking cigarettes by wall-mounted metal ashtrays.
What is this? Yes, I’m back at work. It is almost two weeks now and I’m getting into my stride. Reading review books on the train, banging out timesheets, swiping the doors like I’ve never been away. It’s a busy time. Days and nights click and ratchet past in shutters of black and white, like early filmreels, like the window view of a train rocketing through a forgotten platform.
Still, moments stand out. First smoke of the day, at six in the am, in my garden under last night’s stars. I looked through the window as we were cruising across the flyaway and I felt afraid for a second. Then I forgot it. I’ve had ‘Daysleeper,’ by REM, in my head: I’m the screen. I’m the screen. I work at night… And something else; an amazing poem by Stephen Dobyns, called ‘Pursuit’.
I love Dobyns because his poems are like stories with rhythm. I think this one is worth quoting in full; it seems to encapsulate and universalise a feeling I never thought anyone else possessed.
Each thing I do I rush through so I can do
something else. In such a way do the days pass –
a blend of stock car racing and the never
ending building of a gothic cathedral.
Through the windows of my speeding car, I see
all that I love falling away: books unread,
jokes untold, landscapes unvisited. And why?
What treasure do I expect in my future?
Rather it is the confusion of childhood
loping behind me, the chaos in the mind,
the failure chipping away at each success.
Glancing over my shoulder I see its shape
and so move forward, as someone in the woods
at night might hear the sound of approaching feet
and stop to listen, then, instead of silence
he hears some creature trying to be silent.
What else can he do but run? Rushing blindly
down the path, stumbling, struck in the face by sticks;
the other ever closer, yet not really
hurrying or out of breath, teasing its kill.